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Why gas stations are disappearing

At a gas station in Manhattan, taxi drivers begin lining up at 4 p.m. — a full hour before the end of their shifts — so they have enough time to fill up.

If you've ever taken a long drive on the interstate, you've no doubt noticed a trend by the side of the road: Gas stations just keep getting bigger.

That’s because multi-pump operations have swallowed up the mom-and-pop shops, bringing down the overall number of stations. 

“With so much consolidation having gone on, it's now Exxon-Mobil, BP-Amoco. It's Conoco-Phillips. The smaller retailers really have nowhere to go,” says AAA spokesman Robert Sinclair.

This nationwide trend is largely driven by consolidation. But in New York City, the drop in stations is all about cold, hard cash.

Manhattan gas stations sit on land worth millions of dollars. A BP station sold for $25 million late last year. Developers are willing to pay so much because stations are on corner lots along major thoroughfares, something hard to come by in Manhattan. 

“It’s kind of like the gas station has a red flag on it that says ‘Call me, I'm the next site,’” says Adelaide Polsinelli, a broker with the real estate investment firm Eastern Consolidated.

Ten years ago, there were more than 60 stations in Manhattan. Today, there are just 39.

Map courtesy of WNYC.

Only 11 stations are below 59th Street in what you might call prime Manhattan real estate, and seven of those are close to development projects on the West Side, meaning they are probably not long for this world.

“You see everything that was once industrial — auto body shops, garages, gas stations — and now they're all holes in the ground with cranes in them,” Polsinelli says.

That’s bad news for drivers like Dawn Cole, who lives in Harlem and drives to work near Wall Street, where there is no gas in sight.

“In the financial district, Wall Street area, you can forget about it,” she says. “You would need to cross the Brooklyn Bridge to find a gas station actually at that point.”

For the last few months, Cole has not been able to get gas near her home either. That's because the local BP shut down to make way for a residential tower.

She had been filling up there for 19 years. Now, she has to battle traffic and drive several miles to the Bronx to get gas.

Cole fills up once a week, but for cabbies who fill up once a day, disappearing stations mean disappearing profits.

Cabbies can lose 40 to 60 dollars waiting in the lines that form just before a shift change, and they run the risk of late fees if they don't return their cars to the depot on time. 

“If I don't have to waste time being in the line, I could have worked for another hour. People could get extra ride,” says taxi driver Mehmud Zafar. “I could get extra money in the pocket at least as much as I spent to fill up my gas tank.”

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